Curing the $250 million rural curse

Tackling a weed that costs the economy millions. Picture: NSW DPI
Tackling a weed that costs the economy millions. Picture: NSW DPI

PATERSON’S curse is a purple weed that wreaks havoc across the Riverina each year. 

Comparing Paterson’s curse plants from Australia with those found in Spain and Portugal has given researchers from the Graham Centre an understanding of why the weed is such a successful invader.

The research has been presented at the International Society of Allelopathy Eight World Congress in Marseille France by Charles Sturt University (CSU) PhD student Mr Dominik Skoneczny and research associate Dr Xiaocheng Zhu.

“Paterson’s curse is estimated to cost Australian sheep and cattle producers $250 million a year in lost productivity, control and fibre contamination,” Mr Skoneczny said. “The plant was introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s,” she said.

“The research collected samples from numerous plant populations from Australia, Portugal and Spain to examine the genetics, ecology and chemistry of Paterson’s curse in various locations,” she said.

“In particular I analysed the bioactive secondary compounds produced by the Paterson’s curse shoots and roots which play a role in plant defence.”

“I found Paterson’s curse plants established more densely in Australia and produced up to six fold higher levels of antimicrobial and phytotoxic compounds (naphthoquinones) in their roots.”

Mr Skoneczny’s research is part of a larger Discovery project funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and led by CSU Professors Leslie Weston and Geoff Gurr.

“This research is significant because it’s shown that multiple mechanisms, including enhanced genetic diversity, production of root-based defence chemistry, prolific seed dispersal and in some cases a lack of other plant competitors have contributed to the continued spread of this species across 30 million hectares in Australia,” Professor Weston said.

“In contrast, in its native range in the Iberian Peninsula, the species is often difficult to locate amongst biodiverse flora and is not considered to be a serious pest.”